Regulators and the challenge of digital disruption
A call for a new regulatory body is a sign of the times.
Elon Musk once pointed out that regulation would be an essential precursor to the success of self-driving cars. He reasoned that such regulation would provide reassurance to users and wider society, and only then would the necessary investment and innovation follow.
The symbiotic relationship between regulation and innovation lies at the heart of the digital economy. “Collaborative” regulation is viewed as a means of guiding, but not constraining, new developments. In the converged world of technology, we frequently talk about “horizontal” regulation as an approach which overcomes traditional sectoral boundaries. However, the mood in the last 12 months has darkened. In the light of frequent data breaches and privacy concerns, questions are being raised about whether not just current regulation, but current regulatory processes, are able to provide the reassurance required. It is against this backdrop that one can frame the calls from Apple and Facebook for the US to adopt European-style GDPR regulation. And now the UK think tank Doteveryone, champions of “responsible technology”, have published a new survey. It suggests that regulators across all industries are struggling to adapt to digital change, and that businesses see this as a problem. Their chair, Martha Lane Fox, proposes that the UK creates a new body – the “Office for Responsible Technology” – to support existing regulators and propose new ones. She believes that such a change would create more effective regulation and, like Elon Musk, that innovation will follow.
Whether this is the right approach remains to be seen. But we should be clear – it’s not just regulations which are under the spotlight, but regulators. Demands for more assertive, consumer-centred regulation are growing and technology companies are in the crosshairs. Is this the best way forward? Whatever your view, consumers, businesses and citizens are airing their concerns, and politicians are responding. Regulators will need to respond too.
Andrea Millwood Hargrave,
Director General, International Institute of Communications
- Monday, 10 September 2018